Last week, the split within the Democratic Party was put on display during the debate in Brooklyn between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Given his well-known critical views, Sanders’ full-throated attack against Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as his re-floating of the smear that Israeli Defense Forces’ efforts to suppress missile fire and terror tunnels from Hamas terrorists in Gaza were “disproportionate,” to say nothing of his statement blaming the continuation of the conflict on Israel rather than, as Clinton pointed, squarely on the Palestinians where it belongs, was hardly surprising. But his willingness to go on the offensive against the pro-Israel community in this way just days before the New York primary illustrated his belief that the liberal base of the party — and a vocal left-wing minority of Jews — agree with him. The problem with his stands though — and that of many in his party as well as the Obama administration — is that they are not so much at variance with Clinton’s beliefs as they are with the reality of the Middle East, as a series of recent events, including today’s Jerusalem bus bombing, illustrate.
Sanders’s stand may not win him as many votes as he thinks since even most liberal New York Jewish voters aren’t that comfortable with his willingness to embrace the “disproportionate” canard even if they also don’t like Netanyahu. But it was widely applauded by veteran Israel-bashers like the New York Times’ Roger Cohen (who also has doubled at times as an apologist for Iran) as well as the left-wing J Street lobby. Though at times it has maintained the pretense that its goal is to replace AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community, the group has a fraction of that mainstream group’s support and influence. Yet it is being propped up by the administration, which is sending both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry to a J Street event tonight as a signal of its desire to encourage those Jews who are critical of Netanyahu.
But as weak as the arguments in favor of Sanders’ stands were, the bombing in Jerusalem and the discovery of a new terror tunnel were more reminders of how out of touch with reality, the Vermont senator, the administration and their left-wing cheering sections are.
The bombing, which injured 21 people, represented a marked escalation in the conflict just at a time when many in Israel thought a decline in attacks showed that the “stabbing intifada” might be coming to an end. The bombing was applauded by Hamas, which spoke of it as appropriate retaliation for supposed “desecration” of the mosques on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a lie that has been consistently sounded by the Palestinian Authority, too, as it has both applauded and encouraged terror attacks during the past several months. While there is no telling whether this is an isolated incident or the start of a new terror offensive that will return to more bloody tactics used during the second intifada that took thousands of lives in the last decade, it is nevertheless a troubling development.
The attack also happened on the same day that the IDF announced that it had discovered a tunnel that extended from Gaza into Israel for the first time since the 2014 war that served as fodder for Sanders’ criticism of the Jewish state. Though it has been well known that Hamas is pouring all the resources at its command into the effort to rebuild the terror infrastructure that was destroyed by Israel’s supposedly disproportionate attacks, including building more tunnels, this is the first time one of these new structures had actually been uncovered. The discovery also showed the extent of the threat. The tunnel was built over 100 feet below the ground, with reinforced concrete (allowed into Gaza in order to rebuild homes destroyed in the last war it set off) and wired for electricity. With a newly enriched Iran (as a result of the Obama administration’s nuclear pact with Tehran) continuing to support Hamas, this won’t be the last such discovery. That Hamas and Hezbollah have been re-armed with more rockets aimed at Israel than in past conflict is another sign of the increased threat.
But the broader point here is that the pursuit of violence against Israel is not being caused by Israelis building a few more homes in decades-old Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem or in settlements that even the Obama administration concedes would be included in Israel in the event that a peace agreement were ever to be concluded. No “new settlements” are being built in the West Bank that are, according to J Street and others, making peace impossible.
To the contrary, although Sanders speaks about Israel denying the Palestinians “dignity” being the ongoing cause of the conflict, the fact remains that even the so-called moderates running the PA are as adamantly opposed to peace talks as the radicals of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. All of them, including PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, continue to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. That was illustrated by the PA’s turning down of peace offers from Israel that would have granted them a state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem.
The disconnect here is not so much between Netanyahu and Obama, Sanders and J Street as it is between these Democrats and the realities of Palestinian politics. The one thing missing from the complaints of Israel’s critics about Netanyahu is any acknowledgment that it is the Palestinians that not only refuse to make peace. More than that, they continue to ignore PA and Hamas incitement to hatred against Jews and Israel that is rooted in traditional anti-Semitic themes rather than a desire to improve upon the already generous offers the Jewish state has made for peace. The stabbing intifada demonstrated that Palestinian public opinion continues to not only see Jewish sovereignty anywhere in the country as unacceptable but to consider bloody attacks on individual Jews, whether in the settlements, Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, as praiseworthy.
To the contrary, rather than encouraging peace, stands such as those of Sanders, and the European countries that he cites as backing up his slurs about the Gaza war, are instead giving the Palestinians the impression that they should redouble their terror efforts rather than make peace.
As unrealistic as Sanders’ economic positions may be, his opinions about the Middle East that are being applauded on the left as a refreshing dissent from the bipartisan support for Israel that exists in this country, are based on even greater fantasies. It would be helpful for the cause of peace if Sanders’ certain defeat in the Democratic race were interpreted as a sign that his party was rejecting his desire to create even more daylight between Washington and Jerusalem than has been the case since Obama became president. But there is no denying that the leftward tilt of the party is a sign that support for Israel is no longer a matter of consensus among Democrats. That’s something that ought to worry not only friends of Israel but also anyone who hopes that the Palestinians will someday give up their futile opposition to the existence of a Jewish state.
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Reality v. Democrats’ Israel Debate
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Mirror images of one another.
On August 16, the Boston Globe will publish an editorial denouncing Donald Trump’s “dirty war on the free press.” They will not be alone. According to the Globe’s deputy editorial page editor, over 100 American newspapers ranging from major city dailies to local outlets will join with the paper in a united assault on this White House’s attacks on political media as the “enemy of the people.” The tension between media consumers and producers—regularly exacerbated by the president—has even been condemned in the United Nations. The institution’s outgoing high commissioner for human rights said that the president’s agitation verges on “incitement to violence”—a legitimate concern that justifiably haunts many of Trump’s domestic critics.
For some, the pretense of concern for civic decency and national comity melts away when those desirable conditions conflict with their team’s political imperatives. Among Donald Trump’s self-appointed phalanx in the conservative press, the fear that the president may again be creating the conditions for violence will be waved off. After all, the sources of this criticism are hardly objective, and Trump’s critics cannot be lent one inch of legitimacy lest they take a mile. But to dismiss the potential of incitement to produce anti-media violence is to be blind to the rhetoric-fueled political violence we’ve already witnessed in the Trump era. By and large, though, that violence is not the product of Trumpian incitement. Just the opposite; it appears to be the result of anti-Trump anxiety.
To mark the first anniversary of the terrible events in Charlottesville this weekend, a band of white nationalists just large enough to have gratuity included in their check descended on Washington D.C. There, they were confronted by a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators numbering in the hundreds. Between the counter-protesters, the journalists, and the police assigned to keep order, the handful of white supremacists who instigated this event quickly ceased to be of relevance. Unfortunately, the threat of civil unrest did not abate with the successful intimidation of the alt-right. The left’s more agitated elements quickly turned on the police and the press.
The anti-racist demonstrators paraded down the streets in Charlottesville, Virginia, chanting “All cops are racist, you better face it.” “No borders. No Wall. No USA at all,” another group of demonstrators shouted. “Last year they came w/ torches,” one of the protester’s banners read. “This year they come w/ badges.” The Washington Post reported that the demonstrators were confused and agitated by the large riot gear–clad police presence. That “confusion” led to a variety of confrontations, including one in Washington D.C. where an officer was pelted with objects and nearly torn off his motorcycle.
Police did not have it anywhere near as bad as the press. Demonstrators assaulted an NBC News reporter and tried to prevent him from filming the mass demonstration. “Fu** you, snitch ass news bitch,” yelled one demonstrator as he lunged at NBC News correspondent Cal Perry. ABC News reporter DeJuan Hoggard was confronted by protesters who were so agitated by the prospect of being filmed that they cut the audio cable on his recording equipment.
It would be ignorant to dismiss these and similar moves by potentially and actively violent left-wing organizations as the outbursts of an inchoate movement without an ethos. Anti-police violence and anti-media agitation are predicated on mature intellectual and organizing principles.
Mark Bray, a Dartmouth College historian and the author of Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street, explained that Antifa’s purpose is to “preemptively shut down fascist organizing efforts.” As a movement, it “rejects the liberal notion that fascism is a school of thought worthy of open debate and consideration.” Writing in praise of Antifa’s “militant left-wing and anarchist politics,” the Nation’s Natasha Lennard mocked “civility-fetishizing” liberals who “cling to institutions.” Presumably, she meant institutions like the right of objectionable elements to peaceable assembly, or, in her words, “predictable media coverage decrying antifa militancy.” Animated by the increased visibility of white nationalism in the Trump era, Mother Jones published a less-than-condemnatory profile of the resolve of “left-wing groups” to resist white supremacy, which “sometimes goes beyond nonviolent protest—including picking up arms.”
These activists’ sentiments are not limited to the liberal fringe. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has picked up a failed liberal war on right-wing media’s credibility where the Barak Obama administration left off. The mayor has never been shy about dismissing Rupert Murdoch-owned properties like the New York Post and Fox News Channel, which he does not consider “real media outlets.” This weekend, de Blasio devoted himself to attacking these “tabloid” institutions for deliberately “increasing racial tensions” in America. In a world without these media outlets, “there would be less hate,” he said, “less appeal to racial division.” Given the political environment, you can see how this might be misconstrued as a call to action.
In the parlance of the militant activists on the streets, de Blasio is contending that these media outlets deserve to be “no-platformed.” And the mayor seems prepared to act on his exclusionary beliefs. When a credentialed Post reporter tried to approach the mayor this weekend at a public event, the mayor’s New York City Police Department security detail physically escorted the reporter out of de Blasio’s sight. As the Post correctly noted, the incident was not unlike the White House’s efforts to demonize CNN and bar its reporters from access to the White House.
The prospect of imminent violence resulting from white supremacist and anti-media fervor recklessly whipped up by the president needs to be urgently and forcefully confronted. As I and others have written, Trump’s penchant for demonizing the press and flattering his most unsavory supporters has the potential to radicalize his more unstable fans, who perhaps cannot see through the act. But the same is true for liberals. Their popular elected officials are demonizing media they don’t like, blaming them for racial tension in America and deeming them, in effect, fake news. Their left flanks are populated by ghoulish polemicists who are role-playing at violent revolutionary politics. And amid all this, the potential exists for these ingredients to yield precisely the kind of bloodshed that the press fears Trump may be inviting.
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Podcast: Street Violence and Turkey
The COMMENTARY podcast discusses the weekend of unrest that followed the one-year anniversary of white nationalist-instigated violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. Despite vastly outnumbering the white nationalists who showed up to commemorate the heinous anniversary, many of the anti-racist demonstrators were not content to be peaceful. The podcast explores what animates these violent movements. Also, the podcast unpacks the increasingly serious friction between the U.S. and Turkey.
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An idea whose time will come.
When President Donald Trump first floated the idea of creating an entirely new branch of the United States armed forces dedicated to space-based operations in March, the response from lay political observers was limited to bemused snickering. That mockery and amusement have not abated in the intervening months. Thursday’s announcement by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, that the administration plans to establish a sixth armed forces branch by 2020, occasioned only more displays of cynicism, but it shouldn’t have. This is deadly serious stuff. The expansion and consolidation of America’s capacities to defend its interests outside the atmosphere is inevitable and desirable.
Though you would not know it from those who spent the day chuckling to themselves over the prospect of an American space command, the militarization of this strategically vital region is decades old. Thousands of both civilian and military communications and navigations satellites operate in earth orbit, to say nothing of the occasional human. It’s impossible to say how many weapons are already stationed in orbit because many of these platforms are “dual use,” meaning that they could be transformed into kill vehicles at a moment’s notice.
American military planners have been preoccupied with the preservation of critical U.S. communications infrastructure in space since at least 2007, when China stunned observers by launching a missile that intercepted and destroyed a satellite, creating thousands of pieces of debris hurtling around the earth at speeds faster than any bullet.
America’s chief strategic competitors—Russia and China—and rogue actors like Iran and North Korea are all committed to developing the capability to target America’s command-and-control infrastructure, a lot of which is space-based. Trump’s Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testified in 2017 that both Moscow and Beijing are “considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine” and are developing the requisite anti-satellite technology—despite their false public commitments to the “nonweaponization of space and ‘no first placement’ of weapons in space.”
Those who oppose the creation of a space branch object on a variety of grounds, some of them merit more attention than others. The contention that a sixth military branch is a redundant waste of taxpayer money, for example, is a more salient than cynical claims that Trump is interested only in a glory project.
“I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting functions,” Sec. Mattis wrote in October of last year. That’s a perfectly sound argument against excessive bureaucratization and profligacy, but it is silent on the necessity of a space command. Both the Pentagon and the National Security Council are behind the creation of a “U.S. Space Command” in lieu of the congressional action required to establish a new branch of the armed forces dedicated to space-based operations.
As for bureaucratic sprawl, in 2015, the diffusion of space-related experts and capabilities across the armed services led the Air Force to create a single space advisor to coordinate those capabilities for the Defense Department. But that patch did not resolve the problems and, in 2017, Congress’s General Accountability Office recommended investigating the creation of a single branch dedicated to space for the purposes of consolidation.
It is true that the existing branches maintain capabilities that extend into space, which would superficially make a Space Force seem redundant. But American air power was once the province of the U.S. Army and Navy, and bureaucratic elements within these two branches opposed the creation of a U.S. Air Force in 1947. The importance of air power in World War II and the likelihood that aircraft would be a critical feature of future warfighting convinced policymakers that a unified command of operations was critical to effective warfighting. Moreover, both Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman believed that creating a separate branch for airpower ensured that Congress would be less likely to underfund the vital enterprise.
The final argument against the militarization of space is a rehash of themes from the Cold War. Low earth orbit, like the seafloor and the Antarctic, is part of the “global commons,” and should not be militarized on principle. This was the Soviet position, and Moscow’s fellow travelers in the West regularly echoed it. But the argument is simply not compelling.
The Soviets insisted that the militarization of space was provocative and undesirable, but mostly because they lacked the capability to weaponize space. The Soviets regularly argued that any technology it could not match was a first-strike weapon. That’s why they argued vigorously against deploying missile interceptors but voiced fewer objections to ground-based laser technology. As for the “global commons,” that’s just what we call the places where humans do not operate for extended periods of time and where resource extraction is cost prohibitive. The more viable the exploration of these hostile environments becomes, the less “common” we will eventually consider them.
Just as navies police sea lanes, the inevitable commercialization of space ensures that its militarization will follow. That isn’t something to fear or lament. It’s not only unavoidable; it’s a civilizational advance. Space Force may not be an idea whose time has come, but deterrence is based on supremacy and supremacy is the product of proactivity. God forbid there comes a day on which we need an integrated response to a state actor with capabilities in space, we will be glad that we didn’t wait for the crisis before resolving to do what is necessary.
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Victim of success.
Chicken Little has always been the press secretary of the environmental movement.
In the 1960’s there was good reason to think the sky was actually falling. The New Yorker published a cartoon showing a wife standing by a table set for lunch in the backyard of a brownstone. “Hurry darling,” she calls to her husband, “Your soup’s getting dirty.” In 1969, the Cuyahoga River that runs through Cleveland was so polluted that it caught fire, not for the first time.
But in 1970, Earth Day was established. It was one of the most remarkable examples of grassroots activism in American history, involving fully 10 percent of the population. Late that year, Congress, at the behest of the Nixon Administration, established the Environmental Protection Agency. A series of acts requiring pollution controls and abatement followed, and the great American clean up began.
How has it worked out? As Investor’s Business Daily reports, the clean up has been a howling success. From 1990 to 2017, the six major air pollutants monitored by the EPA plunged by 73 percent from levels that were already well below 1970 levels. By comparison, during that time, the U.S. economy grew 262 percent and its population expanded by 60 percent. And by 1990, much progress had already been made. Banning lead in gasoline, where it was used as an antiknock agent, beginning in the 1980’s had already greatly reduced the level of atmospheric lead, reducing, in turn, the level found in blood. It is down 98 percent from 1980.
Water pollution has plunged as well, as sewage treatment plants came online. In 1970, Manhattan discharged the sewage of 1.5 million people into the surrounding waterways. Today, there is an annual swimming race around Manhattan. There is even talk of a beach for Manhattan Island, the only borough of New York City without one. This sort of improvement has been duplicated across the country. The Connecticut River, once a 400-mile sewer, is now safe for fishing and swimming along its entire length. Even the Cuyahoga is in much better shape, with riverside cafés looking out over blue water instead of rafts of sludge.
And yet this good news can be hard to find. Government agencies usually are not shy about tooting their own horns when they have success to report. But the pollution history on the EPA’s website is hard to find. And the websites of such organizations as the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council, are still in full the-sky-is-falling mode. I suspect the reason for that has more to do with fundraising strategy than the actual state of the environment.
And even that bugbear of the environmentalist movement, the country’s output of CO2, has fallen 29 percent since it peaked in 2007. That’s thanks largely to the switchover from coal to natural gas as fracking has greatly increased the supply and, thus, lowered the price. Trumpeting that statistic, of course, would not advance the cause of what used to be called “global warming,” and is now called “climate change.”